Law Around Service Animals


Tuesday, May 28, 2019
By Amanda Lawrence-Patel

The recent increase in media reports regarding requests by individuals to access their service animals, or “therapy pets” or “compassion pets” in the course of their employment and in accessing services has caused various organizations to consider their responsibility to accommodate staff and clients who require the use of a guide dog or service animal. Accordingly, the purpose of this article is to provide some best practices to ensure that your organization knows how to respond when a request for access to a service animal is received.

Familiarize yourself with key terms

While the terms “service animal” and “guide dogs” are sometimes used interchangeably when speaking about the right of an individual to access a service animal or guide dog, the two terms are not synonymous for the purposes of all applicable legislation. Indeed, the legislation which provides individuals with a right to use a service animal may differ slightly depending on the animal and/or its purpose, although all are covered by the Human Rights Code.

Know applicable legislation

Organizations should be aware of three key pieces of legislation. First, the Blind Person Rights Act specifically pertains to guide dogs used for blind persons and defines a guide dog as a dog trained as a guide for a blind person and having the qualifications prescribed by the regulations. Under the Act, no person shall deny accommodation, services or facilities to a person accompanied by a guide dog or shall discriminate against any person for the reason that they are accompanied by a guide dog.

Second, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) states that where a person with a disability is accompanied by a guide dog or other service animal, a provider of services shall ensure that the person is permitted to enter the premises with the animal and to keep the animal with him or her (unless otherwise excluded by law). Under the AODA, an animal is a service animal if the animal can be readily identified as one that is being used by a person for reasons relating to that person’s disability, including where the animal is confirmed as such by a letter from a qualified “regulated health professional.”

The third piece of legislation to be aware of is the Ontario Human Rights Code. “Disability” under the Code includes “physical reliance on a guide dog or other animal.” This captures guide dogs, but like the AODA, it is also much broader and includes all types of dogs as well as other animals used for support purposes. Failing to accommodate a guide dog or service animal where the animal is actually required for a disability related need to the point of undue hardship constitutes a failure to accommodate a disability.

Respond appropriately to request

First, regardless of whether a request to access a guide dog or service animal is in the context of employment or access to services, be sure that the organization responds promptly and takes the request seriously. To facilitate this, organizations should consider developing a policy for employees outlining how requests will be handled and the process for a response.

Second, the organization should look critically at whether the service animal or guide dog is actually required to address a disability-related need that is acting as a barrier to employment or accessing the service. In many cases, the first step of the inquiry is easy for example, in the case of a blind individual, the guide dog is clearly addressing a disability-related need as the “eyes” of the individual.

In other cases, the issue of whether a service animal is required to address a disability-related need is not as straightforward. In those circumstances, the organization should have a thoughtful and respectful discussion with the individual who has made the request, to discuss the type of support that the service animal provides to the individual and other relevant information, such as what care the animal needs.

There may be some circumstances, such as where the request is made in the context of employment or where the request involves ongoing access to an organization’s premises, which necessitates a request for medical documentation related to the individual’s disability-related needs. The information which is requested should, in almost all cases, be limited only to the individual’s limitations and restrictions and the need which the service animal will address.

Implement accommodation as appropriate

If it is determined that access to a service animal is a reasonable accommodation, the organization should consider how to integrate the animal into the workplace. For example, there may be circumstances where the organization should give notice of the animal’s presence to other employees, customers or third parties. Concerns raised by other employees, customers or clients about a fear of animals or allergies to animals must be addressed and a balancing of rights may need to be considered.

Finally, organizations may also want to re-evaluate the need for the service animal periodically where appropriate.

Amanda Lawrence-Patel is a labour and employment lawyer in the Toronto office of Hicks Morley LLP. She frequently provides workplace investigation training and accommodation training to clients at internal workplace sessions and she provides external training on issues such as the duty to accommodate and workplace harassment. You can reach her at 416-450-6022 or [email protected]

Original at https://www.thelawyersdaily.ca/articles/12612/law-around-service-animals



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Understanding Service Animals


Under the Customer Service Standard of the AODA, service providers’ policies must state that they welcome service animals. The Standard discusses how service providers must allow service animals in almost all public places. It also outlines what providers must do to accommodate customers who need to go to places where their service animals are excluded by law. However, service providers committed to obeying these laws may still have many questions about service animals, such as what they do and how to behave around them. Here we offer some best practices for understanding service animals that service providers should follow.

Understanding Service Animals

What do service animals do?

Providers know that service animals help their handlers maintain their independence, but might still wonder what, exactly, service animals do. Service animals help people with disabilities or conditions such as:

  • Visual impairments
  • Diabetes
  • Epilepsy
  • Autism
  • Hearing disabilities
  • physical disabilities

Moreover, they perform tasks, such as:

  • Guiding a person around obstacles
  • Alerting a person about low blood sugar levels
  • Protecting a person during seizures
  • Calming a person in an environment with too much sensory stimulation and preventing behavioural outbursts
  • Retrieving out-of-reach objects
  • Alerting a person to sounds

Furthermore, service animals assist their handlers everywhere in their communities, including places and events such as:

  • Stores
  • Restaurants
  • Buses, taxis, trains, and planes
  • Hotels
  • Government buildings
  • Schools, colleges, and universities
  • Places of Worship
  • Movie theatres, concerts, and sports games
  • Amusement parks

Training for Service Animals

Service animals are working animals. They are not pets. Instead, they are assistants or guides for people with a variety of disabilities. Since they must learn to perform different tasks depending on their handlers’ needs, each animal’s training is often individualized. Guide dogs for people who are blind or visually impaired receive their training from programs approved under the Blind Persons’ Rights Act. However, there are no legal requirements prescribing specific kinds of training for service animals assisting people with other disabilities. Handlers may train their own service animals or work with professional trainers. Nevertheless, training always includes how to behave appropriately in public places. For instance, good service animal behaviour includes:

  • Focusing on the handler’s needs
  • Avoiding distractions
  • Never barking, growling, or jumping

Dos and don’ts when encountering service animals

What does it really mean to welcome customers with service animals? Once customers and their service animals are on the premises, what should providers do? What shouldn’t they do? Here is a list with some suggestions.

For instance, do:

  • Pay attention to the owner, not the animal
  • Ask what tasks the animal assists with, not what the handler’s diagnosis is

On the other hand, don’t:

  • Ask that the animal be left elsewhere
  • Pet the animal, unless its handler gives permission
  • Call the animal
  • Feed the animal
  • Entice the animal with toys
  • Disturb the animal if it is sleeping

Handlers understand that people are curious about their animals and are often happy to answer a few questions about them. In addition, some handlers may also be willing to talk briefly about their disabilities. However, others may be busy or prefer to talk about something else.

Interacting with service animals

Furthermore, many animals are trained to find help if their handlers need human assistance. Therefore, if a service animal approaches without its handler in sight, the handler may need help, so service providers should interact with the animal. Providers should use simple commands, for example:

  • Where is your handler?
  • What’s wrong?
  • Where’s the trouble?
  • Do you need help?

If service providers follow these best practices for understanding service animals, they can truly welcome all customers.



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Service Animals in Schools: Proposed Amendment to Legislation


The Ontario government has proposed an amendment to legislation that would simplify the accommodation process for students who use service animals in schools.

First, we provide a brief introduction to service animals and then we discuss how the proposed legislation could benefit children who use service animals in schools.

Service Animals

A service animal is an animal, typically a dog, that helps someone with a disability maintain independence. Service animals help people with many disabilities and medical conditions, such as:

  • Visual impairments
  • Diabetes
  • Epilepsy
  • Autism
  • Hearing disabilities
  • Physical disabilities

Service animals are working animals with duties. They are not pets. Instead, they are assistants or guides and they usually wear harnesses or vests identifying them as service animals.

Moreover, service animals have extensive, specialized training to perform tasks, such as:

  • Guiding a person around obstacles
  • Warning a person about low blood sugar or coming seizures
  • Calming a person in an environment with too much sensory stimulation and preventing behavioural outbursts
  • Retrieving out-of-reach objects
  • Alerting a person to sounds, such as ringing phones or fire alarms

Guide dogs assisting handlers who are blind must be trained through an approved provider.

In contrast, there are no legal training requirements for animals assisting people with other disabilities. Handlers may train their service animals on their own or with a professional trainer.

In addition to the disability-specific tasks listed above, service animals are also trained to behave appropriately in public places where non-service-animals are not allowed. For example, good service animal behaviour includes:

  • Focusing on the handler’s needs
  • Avoiding distractions
  • Never barking, growling, or jumping

There are two ways to tell whether an animal is a service animal, in addition to its good behaviour:

  1. If it is visibly apparent that the animal is used by the person for reasons relating to his or her disability; or
  2. If the person provides an identification card, or a letter from a healthcare practitioner, confirming that the person requires the animal for reasons relating to a disability

Service Animals in Schools

Under the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation (IASR), individuals with disabilities may bring their service animals with them to all public places. However, the Human Rights Code ruled in 2017 that schools are not places that all members of the public have access to. This ruling means that all students must request the accommodation of having their service animals in schools, such as:

  • In the school building
  • In the classroom
  • At all school activities

Requests for service animals in schools are heard on a case-by-case basis.

To date, only 39 of the 72 Ontario school boards have policies that offer clear guidance on how these requests should be handled. The proposed legislation would help school boards develop policies that clearly outline the process families should follow when requesting the accommodation of service animals in schools. When school boards fail to create policies addressing the possibility of students with service animals, or when their policies are unclear, children may not receive the classroom accommodations they need.

If the amendment to create guidelines is approved, members of the public will have the chance to make recommendations about what school boards should be encouraged to include in their policies. Thus, families, school officials, and other members of the community can work together to develop policies that ensure an inclusive education for all students.



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